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What if we flipped the conference?

15 March 2016 No Comment

The most productive time for me at a conference is on the long drive home. It gives me a chance to condense everything that has been thrown at me. A time to silently focus on what I’ve heard, what I plan to incorporate in my teaching, and how I might do things differently. This is almost always my first opportunity to do these things due to the constant onslaught of data overload. But what if this period of Conference Zen happened before the actual conference? What if the conference was flipped?

Lets take a quick look at some of the issues regarding the current setup before we dive into what I think a flipped conference might look like.

Session Length:

A few sessions require an intense 60 minute session. Others need 15 minutes tops. We could have a flexible session schedule that made room for mini sessions, and that would be a start, but what if we could take that extra time to go deeper?

Wasted Session:

It’s not always the presenters fault. Sometimes we research all the sessions, check out all the handouts, and get it in our heads that a session is going to go a particular direction, and it just doesn’t end up living up to the expectation we had in our heads. We could always walk out,  but what if we had a better idea of the direction and depth of the presentation ahead of time?

One session fits all:

Sometimes you see two sessions on Google Apps for Education listed, and have to make a judgment call as to which will be aimed more closely at your abilities. Are they just overviewing the basics, or diving further into advanced features? Ideally, the attached documents will help you make that call, but not always.

Sample size:

With the typical conference setup, you have an expert leading a group. You get to see their pitfalls and triumphs as they worked through the topic they are presenting on. But that’s one teacher, in one school. Occasionally, you get the attendee thats been there and done that, and they share a nugget of knowledge at the end of the session that’s worth more than the presentation as  whole, or they shed some light on another side of experiences.

Technical Difficulties:

As awesome as conference wifi can be(sarcastic stare directed at you Galt House), sometimes an issue with WiFi, the projector, or the website you’re using just doesn’t cooperate. Hopefully, the presenter prepared for it, but I’ve seen some disasters that result in extra time in the vendor hall for a whole group of attendees.


Now let’s look at a possible plan, and see how it works against these challenges.

The call for presenters goes pretty much the same except one important detail. You attach a video of your presentation. No pressure to fill a time slot. No dead time while you fiddle with getting something to work, or wait for audience participation. This is done on your own time with your own equipment, so you can absolutely nail this presentation.

The videos are collected, reviewed, and approved. But before they are uploaded and displayed, its time to change up how sponsors and advertisers dialogue with attendees. To be clear, I’m a fan of advertising so long as it’s targeted to the point of being relevant. Advertising and sponsorships pay the bills. Now that you’ve got all of this great video content, why not give users access to vendors that are closely linked to each video’s content. If done well, this can provide value to attendees. It can be done as a video insert or as embedded content directly on the page with the video. Ideally, the vendors could view the videos ahead of release to best tailor their message to their audience. Keep in mind, this advertising goes on well before the physical conference, and last long after the final session. These spots could be sold at a premium, and the money could used to make a much better experience for attendees.

You’ve got your videos, they’ve been tagged, categorized, and accompanied by relevant advertising. Time to make bring it to the people. Keep in mind, you’ve added an extra opportunity for vendors to invest in advertising. The extra revenue can offset the cost of a nice video distribution site. A social-embedded video site would allow for future attendees to view the content, and begin discussions around it. This is all taking place well ahead of the physical conference giving time for the conference zen to take place. There’s time to plan and incorporate what you’ve seen into your classroom. These digital spaces have the potential to become topic-based communities. The feedback from which will form the resulting physical session at the conference.

Following the period of open access to the videos, a 2nd call is made to the presenters to submit their physical session agenda. This is where it gets interesting again. Does the presenter form a panel from people in the discussion groups to discuss how implementation has varied from site to site? Do they have a short session designate for face to face Q & A? Do they start where they left off on the video and go even deeper? Regardless, any of the above would be greatly impacted by having attendees that have a better knowledge of what you’re doing.

It’d be an interesting endeavor to say the least. Got an opinion? Drop it in the comments.


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